A Solo Traveller's Guide to Sweden
Sweden is full of wides swaths of forest, nearly 100,000 lakes of varying sizes, and some of the most interesting cities and towns around, but it’s also a huge country, giving the solo traveller so many options it can be difficult to decide what to prioritise. From a practical point of view, the transport system in Sweden is excellent. Trains and buses will take you pretty much anywhere, as will planes – especially important if you’re travelling the long distances from north to south. This guide will help you navigate the vast country and get the best out of your trip.
Any visit to Sweden should include a stop in Stockholm. Often called the Capital of Scandinavia, Stockholm is filled to the brim with things to do.
Eat and Drink
For a classic Swedish eating experience head to Tennstopet, one of the oldest pubs and restaurants in the city. Dedicated to serving traditional Swedish fare, Tennstopet is charm personified. One side of the establishment is fine dining, while the other side is a proper old-school pub. The staff are friendly and professional, the food fantastic, and the drinks areexcellent. Even more charming is the fact that the same man has been taking coats at the door for decades.
Known locally as KB, Konstnärsbaren (which means The Artist Bar) is a Stockholm institution that focuses on Swedish ingredients as well as great art. The murals on the walls have been painted by some of the biggest names in the Swedish art world, and there are regular exhibitions. Reservations are highly recommended because even after more than 80 years, KB is a city favourite.
For something different, try Stockholm’s famed and award-winning Restaurant China, which serves authentic Chinese food in the Södermalm district. With great service and even better food, Stockholmers from around the city flock here. Top tip: Monday nights are duck night: half price on Peking Duck, which is served in a variety of ways through four courses.
In a city filled with great cafés, Ritorno is a standout. Located in the Vasastan neighbourhood, Ritorno is the perfect cosy café in winter, and a great place to park yourself at a sidewalk table when the weather improves. Beat up old chairs and sofas embrace you, the food is great and reasonably priced, and the coffee is among the best in the city. Bonus: the owner, who wears a different hat every day as he works behind the counter, is a local legend.
See and Do
Djurgården is a magical mixture of some of Stockholm’s top museums and beautiful countryside – all in the heart of the city. Here, you can get active by renting a bike or taking a kayaking tour of the city, get cultural by visiting the Abba Museum, the Vasa, or Skansen, or just wander around, taking in the water and fields. A perfect day out that suits any budget.
As Stockholm’s trendiest, hippest district, Södermalm offers exactly what you’d expect: cool bars, louche cafés, and plenty of funky shops. The best spots to check out are Nytorg, Medborgarplatsen, and Hornstull for the full Söder experience.
For a day trip or even a few overnights, hop on a ferry and head out to the archipelago. Take your pick from more than 30,000 islands to explore: Sandhamn is glamorous and full of yachts, while Möja is rustic and more focused on berry-picking and cycling along country lanes. Wherever you go in the archipelago, it’s pretty laid back, so a nice way to take a break from the city.
Where to stay
This high-end boutique hotel is the latest star in a city that can’t build hotels fast enough. Nobis is beautifully appointed, the bar and restaurant attract the city’s beautiful people, and the service is top-notch. Even better is the building’s history: it was formerly a bank and it’s where the infamous Stockholm Syndrome bank robbery took place.
A long-held reputation as one of the stylish places to stay in Stockholm, Lydmar is regularly singled out for its uniqueness and beauty. Overlooking the water with views towards the Royal Palace, there are also several top bars and restaurants, including the terrace, which is an absolute dream spot on a warm summer’s day. It also hosts summer music events, which are great for mingling.
With the lush waters of Lake Mälaren gently lapping at its sides, The Queen of Lake Mälaren, as it’s known, is not just one of the world’s most beautiful ships, it’s also a very reasonably priced hotel. The rooms are not huge but if it’s views you want, many look out across the water to City Hall and Old Town.
Grab a Stockholm Pass, which will give you free access to all the attractions, as well as an optional travel pass, perfect for navigating the excellent public transport system. If the weather is right, though, ditch the bus and metro and walk instead. Stockholm is made up of 14 islands and nearly 60 bridges and the best way to really see the city is to put boots on pavement.
Health and Safety
While Stockholm is one of the safest cities in the world, it makes sense to take the usual precautions, such as don’t wander about late at night, especially if you’ve had a few drinks, keep your wallet in your front pocket, and don’t accept rides from strangers. Additionally, only use one of the city’s two biggest taxi companies – Taxi Stockholm or TaxiKurir – which are found at taxi stands but can also be flagged from the street.
If you take public transport, be aware that one of the biggest problems in Stockholm when it comes to crime is getting your phone stolen on the metro. If you run into trouble, call 112 – the police speak English fluently and are incredibly helpful. For health concerns, go to one of the city’s world-renowned hospitals, such as Karolinska or Södersjukhuset.
The High Coast
World UNESCO Heritage Site The High Coast, on the Gulf of Bothnia, is often overlooked by visitors to Sweden, which is a real shame. It’s one of the most beautiful areas in a country known for its stunning beauty, and it’s perfect for the solo traveller who wants to retain solitude while still mingling in small doses.
Eat and Drink
Located on the island of Ulvön, Almagränd is pretty much ground zero for fermented herring. Love or hate it – or maybe haven’t tried it yet? – you must have some herring when visiting the High Coast and Almagränd is the place to do it. If you can’t quite stomach the smelly stuff, there is also fresh fish daily, an à la carte menu, and even pizza.
Bella Restaurang & Bar
Parked right in the middle of bustling Örnsköldsvik, Bella Restaurang & Bar is where locals go for good food and even better drinks. While opening hours vary depending on the season, you can be sure to find it open every Friday and Saturday night. The food is truly local and delicious and this is where you can break out of your solitude, if only for a few hours.
Box Whisky Distillery
If you visit during summer take time to tour (and taste!) Box Whisky Distillery. A relatively new player on the whisky scene, Box has quickly gathered fans and accolades from around the globe for its pure, single malt Swedish whisky. There’s also a whisky festival at the end of June, where you can mingle with other whiskey aficionados. And who knows? You may end up buying a cask – it really is that good.
See and Do
Yes, you read that correctly: wildlife safaris in Hälsingland allow you to catch sight of wild bears, moose, wolves, and more in their natural habitat. Safaris include local guides, as well as accommodation at lodges and locally produced organic meals. A truly Swedish experience that is not to be missed.
Skuleskogen National Park, which is at the centre of the 100km of the High Coast recognised by UNESCO, is perfect for biking. While cycling is restricted to the coastal path between the South and North entrances, you won’t be disappointed. The views are outstanding and the trail is challenging, but not overly so. This is also a great place to hike, ski, or snowshoe.
High Coast Hike
This trail is the second largest hike in Sweden and attracts hikers from across the globe. It’s part hike and part folk festival, so you’ll get a taste of the local area while also drinking in incredible views. The hike will take you through coastal mountains, ancient forests, and along the wild coastline.
Where to stay
Located in the Mannaminne Art Centre in the village of Häggvik in the heart of the World Heritage Site, Sestola Gård is a modern hotel with an artistic bent. The 15 rooms are all equipped with their own bathrooms, as well as free wi-fi, and breakfast is included. It’s reasonably priced and staying here means free entry to the art gallery, too.
This family-run inn is located in the heart of the Anundsjö countryside. It’s been around since the 1930s and is known for its cosy atmosphere, great food, and top of the line service. The yellow wooden building that houses Beduins Gästgiveri is typically Swedish and the owners are known to treat everyone – from solo travellers to corporate visitors – with the same warmth and hospitality. Toilet, shower, TV, and wi-fi in every room.
The High Coast is a protected area so don’t build fires other than in specifically designated spots. You can pitch a tent more or less anywhere for a maximum of three nights, unless otherwise marked or if too close to a residence. If pitching on private land, secure the permission of the owner. Also, do not pick flowers or other living plants or moss, as they may be protected and you could face a fine.
Health and Safety
This is the wilderness so be aware that there are plenty of natural hazards. Keep your wits about you, make sure someone knows where you are and also know that cellphone coverage can be unpredictable. The nights are cold, even in the summer, and mosquitos are prevalent, so bring cream! Also, remember that this is the wild side of Sweden so some dangerous wildlife will be nearby. Take appropriate precautions and learn what to do before you encounter a bear or wolf.
Sweden’s second biggest island is often overshadowed by the flashier Gotland, but those in the know swear by the charms of this island, where the Royal Family summers and bird watchers flock.
Eat and Drink
Café & Karamellkokeri
In the charming old village school house in Bredsättra, you’ll find the family-run café and candy factory Ölands Karmeller. In the factory, you can watch them make candy and in the café you can eat the candy, along with homemade cakes and ice cream. You’ll also find excellent home-baked bread and the garden offers lovely views.
Café & Restaurang Svea
If you head up to the northern end of the island make sure to stop at Café & Restaurang Svea. Located in scenic Skäftekärr, Svea uses local Öland produce and ingredients (which means the finest available as Öland is a farming community at heart) and the menu reflects what is fresh. In addition, there’s a wonderful park behind the restaurant where you can play badminton, chess, or the traditional Swedish game Kubb.
This trendy eatery and bar at Hotell Strand reflects the more glamorous side of life on Öland. Fine dining is the name of the game and the prices reflect that – but it’s worth every kronor because the food is delicious and the drinks menu excellent. There’s a wonderful terrace where you can sip your cocktail as the sea breeze blows through your hair while you drink in the views across the harbour. Top tip: grab your seat late in the afternoon so you can experience the stunning sunsets over Kalmar Sound.
See and Do
Built in the 13th century, Borgholm Castle was destroyed by fire in 1806 and today, all that’s left is the shell of what was once a might fortress. It’s often called the ‘Nordic’s finest ruin’ and for good reason: it may only be a shell but it’s a massive shell that is ripe for exploring. As one of the biggest tourist attractions in the area it’s living history, with permanent exhibitions mixed with temporary art exhibitions, guided tours, concerts, and plenty of other activities.
One of the biggest draws on Öland are the beaches, but with more than 50 beaches to choose from, which beach is always up for debate. Byron is noted for its mystical rock formations, while on the east coast at Böda Bay you’ll find Öland’s longest sand beach, which stretches for nearly 20km. Windsurfing, beach volleyball, and good old fashioned swimming in the sea are just a few of the things you can enjoy on the many Blue Flag beaches.
Skulpturleden (Sculpture trail) combines nature with culture. The 4km stretch along Mörbylångleden takes about an hour to traverse, starting at the old Skärlöv Station House, then following along the railway embankment. The art has been created by local artists and is as sturdy as the island.
Where to stay
There are loads of privately-owned cottages, or stugas, scattered across the island that are available for rent and they’re the perfect way to experience true island life. You can let by the day, the weekend or the week and the cabins tend to be very traditional and rustic. This is really getting back to the roots of Sweden, where water is sometimes drawn from a well and TV is not even on your radar.
Located in the centre of Borgholm, the main town on the island, Hotell Borgholm is on the higher end of the scale. The 41 rooms are stylish and modern, with all the amenities one might expect, with free WiFi and breakfast. The location means you can walk to all the restaurants and bars, but you might want to just eat and drink at the hotel, as it has a legendary wine cellar and the kitchen is headed up by Sweden’s famed Karin Fransson.
Rent a room at the hotel or hostel, or even a cottage on the grounds of this charming complex – there’s something for every price range. The 20 hotel rooms come with bathroom, TV, and a shared kitchenette, while the 13 hostel rooms have a WC in the room and a shower in the corridor. Allégården also has 10 cabins on the property. Additionally guests are offered a two-course evening meal for a set price and in summer, there’s a pool for your use.
Health and Safety
If Sweden in general is safe, Öland is even safer. The most dangerous thing is deer running across the road unexpectedly, or maybe some drunk teens in Borgholm. Basically, this is small-town Sweden and other than the normal safety issues you’d find anywhere, there really isn’t anything to be concerned about.
Use this handy map to find your way around Sweden – solo!